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Intro to ZBrush 2020
Jan 5, 2020

Intro to ZBrush 2020

The quick overview of the new features!

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Quick Overview.

Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020

Tutorial Playlist.

Quick Overview.

Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020
Intro to ZBrush 2020

A Bit More About This Tutorial.

Quick intro and initial thoughts…

Is that time of the year again, when we get to enjoy another awesome gift from Pixologic. The new ZBrush 2020 comes packed with little gems to enhance your workflow and is yet another FREE update.

I had the pleasure to be part of the BETA team again this year and seeing what other artists were doing during the testing is very inspiring. The ZB2020 update has a robust set of new tools that will offer you new ways to work in ZBrush as well as greatly improving other workflows in the sculpting and texturing arenas.

The Pixologic guys did a nice job with the features page where you can get a glimpse of what the new features are and how they work. So what I’ll do in this quick intro guide is to show you a bit of the new tools and what they do as well as my experience with the BETA using the new features within my workflow.

The Morph UV Worflow

The Morph UV features have been in ZBrush for a while and you can find it in the UV map subpalette under the Tool palette. In the past, Morph UV was a simple switch that allows you to VIEW a flat version of a model based on its UV layout.

With ZBrush 2020 the Morph UV feature now becomes one of the most useful tools as it now allows you to PAINT and SCULPT! based on that ‘unwrapped’ view. This is not a simple 2D version of your model, it is a 3D model unwrapped in the 3D space so you can do any modifications you want and when you get back from the morphed UV, you’ll get all that information back!

Here is a test I did applying the skin details of a flat alpha into the flat morphed UV of a model, so there is no distortion from the volumes and contours on the single ‘dragged’ alpha.

But the Morph UV  is one of those features that has many different applications. In the example below, I took the ‘poncho’ from the little character and used the UV master plugin to give it a quick UV. Once I had the UVs, I used the Morph UV feature to paint on a flat surface and to apply the alpha for details later on.

The advantage of using this method, in this particular instance is that the geometry of the poncho is pretty thin, so using polypaint could sometimes transfer to the other side while painting, but more importantly, you could maintain a more consistent pattern if you are doing it by hand.

The details of the ‘woven pattern’ could also be done with the surface noise plugin. However, in this example, I had quick UVs from UV master so using the Morph UVs, you could actually just drag any alpha you want and adjust the size and angle from the single stroke motion.

Straight lines and continuos patterns on UV layout

Another great use of this Morph UV feature is to create continuous patterns and straight lines with polypaint (or texture) from the flat view (morph UV enabled). If you have a more complex mesh that overlaps and fold over itself, all you need is a ‘cleaner’ UV map to apply a pattern (hold shift before dragging the stroke to create straight lines):

It doesn’t have to be straight lines or a pattern, you can set some simple colored markings in your 3D mesh and use them in the flat view to connect them:

It is important to mention that the topology in the flat view of the model has to remain the same as the 3D object. So you can use any painting or sculpting tools as long as you don’t edit the geometry in this view (no dynamesh, no slicing, etc).

NOTE: The ‘Bump’ slider next to the Morph UV switch, determinse the elevetion of the details volumes in the ‘flat’ view. If you want a totally flat surface, you can set this slider to 0 or push it all the way up to get a very strong representation of the volumes and details in the ‘Morphed UV (it will take a bit of time if you push this slider all the way up)’.

The XTractor brush in action

This sounds just like a new brush added to the brush system, but it’s much more. It’s a massive boost to productivity and the way you interact with your models (especially for details).

Essentially the ‘XTractor’ is BRUSH FEATURE that allows you to extract information from your mesh at any point in the process (sculpted details and color). What’s really cool about this feature is that it is not necessarily ‘a brush’, the XTractor brushes are just something that the guys at Pixologic did to make our life easier, since they are optimized for this function, but you can use the ‘XTractor’ function in most brushes.

The way it works is super easy so it will become a very natural part of your process:

1. With the XTractor brush (or any other sculpting brush). Go back in you UNDO HISTORY to a point before the detail you want to extract, hold Ctrl+click on the undo step to set the marking. This is important so that ZBrush knows what’s the ‘difference’ between the marked point and the new details to create a clean alpha.

Press the G key on your keyboard. Pressing G will change your cursor to the light blue cursor to ‘Grab’ the info on the canvas.

2. Click and drag over the area you want to extract to ‘Grab’ the details. When you let go, ZBrush will automatically create the alpha and texture to use with the brush.

Once you have captured the detail that you want, you can simply start applying the details with ZDepth and colour over the model. The XTractor brush will optimise the ‘extracted’ information to work with the stroke:

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when ‘grabbing’ your alphas with the XTractor brushes. If you want to create a macro or put this feature in your UI you can find the ‘From Mesh’ switch in the Alpha Palette. The diameter of the blue light circle cursor determines the area that you will capture, and the line across the cursor indicates the width of the alpha.

When you use the XTractor (standard), the line in the cursor should be perpendicular to whatever ‘path’ you are tracing if you want to create a continuous line that replicates the details along the patter you are trying to capture.

Otherwise, if you just use a straight line to capture the details, the result will be an exact replica of the section captured:

This is incredibly useful. There is no need to create alphas in separate tools, you can simply pick up details and information that you have sculpted/painted on the go and keep adding to the mesh.

I used this feature quite a bit to add some scratches and imperfections to the whale I use in this illustration.

Actually, this new functionality is absolutely brilliant when you capture Depth as well as colour.

Here is a more practical use of the XTractor brushes using a couple of them in combination to build a series of skin details very quickly:

1. Sculpt and detail a single pore of the skin using Dam_Standard, clay and smooth brushes.

2. Extract the single pore using the XTractorDrag.

3. Apply a few more pores using the recently extracted depth information.

4. Use the XTractor to ‘grab’ a section of the manually placed pores

5. Add more details using long strokes to define the flow.

6. Smooth and Refine volumes.

NOTE: You might notices the GeometryHD subpalette on the right tray from the timelapse above… so YES, the XTractor brush works with GeomtryHD 😀

Here is a close up of the model from the time-lapse after a bit more work on the high-frequency details, alphas, and noise:

For my concept of the Toucan Creature, I also took advantage of the XTractor brush in combination with the Morph UV feature. For instance, once I had the UVs for the beak of the creature, I morphed the UVs to add some polypaint and then used the XTractor brush to add more details with colour:

The History Recall Brush

This brush is another game changer! – The History brush is just fantastic, I’d argue is the most radical feature from this update of ZBrush 2020 haha. I see this brush as almost having a permanent Morph Target on the go at any point (as long as you have undo history).

This brush uses the undo history to give you access to all stages of your project. You can go ‘back in time’ and set a marking in the timeline to tell ZBrush you want to use the state of your model at that particular point in time. Then you can move forward in time and use the History Brush to bring back that stage of the model you marked.

For instance, in the example below, I have a simple sphere. I turned into a Dynamesh object, then added some carvings and then added some details and all this is recorded in the undo history.

Now I can use any point in that history to set a marking. With the History Brush selected you can scroll back in time to the stage of the model you want to ‘mark’ and simply hold Ctrl and click in that stage of the undo history.

The ‘marked’ point in the undo history is indicated by a thin white line. In the example below I set the mark at a point where I had no details because I wanted to use the smooth surface of that stage.

Now I can go back to where I was (forward in time), and use the History Brush to recover that smooth surface… pretty much in the same way you would use the morph target and more brush but without the need to set it beforehand.

This might not sound as exciting… but it is! Think about the possibilities – You can set a marking at ANY POINT in the undo history so for instance… if I decided I want to recover the crevices in the example above, but lose the smaller details, I can set the marking at that stage and come back again to fix it!

History Brush between different meshes!

Now, if we really want to take this History Brush to the next level, we can use it as a way to transfer details between objects that live in the same spaces.

The History Recall Brush is some kind of black magic based on the projection features of ZBrush like the MatchMaker, so you are not limited to the Undo History of a single object. You can actually set a marking in a different subtool that lives in a similar space and then apply the details or color of that mesh into another one.

This is the process I used to create the pattern and colour variation for this monster blob:

For the actual patterns and details, I used a combination of the features that I previously mentioned like the Morph UV as well as the XTractor brushes. But the big difference is that I created each pattern in a duplicate version of the model, so I ended up with 5 variants of the same model.

So once I had all the variants in different subtools, I used the History Recall brush to set markings on the subtool with the specific pattern and then come back to my ‘master’ object to project ZDepth and colour information.

In the example below I set the marking in the ‘Green blobby’ version, and painted on the ‘blue stripy’ one:

The possibilities with this new feature/brush are very exciting, Just keep in mind that what ZBrush is doing with this brush is a projection from the camera view so be careful with the edges of the model (rotate your model as you use the brush).

Solving the time travel conundrum!

The History Recall Brush works backward too! this is really the ‘Total Recall Brush’

So you know how the movies that deal with time travel if the characters go back in time, they always have the problem that they can’t ‘mess with the timeline’ because it will change the future or split the timelines, an all that?

Well, with ZBrush you don’t have that problem. I found that with the History Recall brush you can actually go back in time, alter something, and ‘go back to the future’ exactly where you where. I know this might sound weird so let me try to give you a practical example:

The Scenario: I have a simple model that I’ve worked on an I’m happy with the polypaint work I’ve done. However, when I rotate around, I realize there is some vertex that I must have moved unintentionally in the past.

The problem: To fix the weird vertex problem I’ll have to go back in time to a point in the timeline right before the problem happened… the issue is that as soon as I start sculpting or doing anything at that point in the past, the undo history from that point forward (the future) will be deleted and now the past becomes my new present hahaha. BUT, I don’t want to erase my future because I really liked the polypaint I had there, right?

The solution: here is the beauty of the History Recall brush… I was blown away by it. You can actually set a marking in the present, so in this case, that is at the point where I have the Polypaint I like. ZBrush will store this stage of the model.

Now I can go back in time to find a state before the problem happened and use the History Recall brush to bring the future back to the current state of the model… You’ll get a warning that the points in the undo history moving forward will be deleted, BUT the state the model was in the future is somehow stored and you can bring everything back! this is awesome.

NOTE: The issue in the example above could actually be fixed by setting the marking right before the problem where the vertex happened, go back to the ‘future’ and simply bring back that state. However, this example illustrate the awesome capabilities of the History Recal brush.

Moving Infinite Brush

This is a pretty interesting addition to ZBrush 2020. It’s a modifier that you can use with a few different brushes and it allows you to project whatever you are doing across the camera view or specific axis.

It might take a while to get used to this feature and it might look like a ‘symmetry’ feature at first glance, but give it a chance! – From the Depth sub-palette under the brush palette, you can enable or disable the ‘Infinite Depth’ feature. By default, the XYZ axes are off and the effect is applied from the camera view, but you can turn them on by clicking on the small little icons at the top right within the switch.

Here is an example of the Infinite Depth feature enabled on the Move brush and using the camera as the axis (default). I have also enabled symmetry in the X-axis to show the difference between what Symmetry does in comparison to the Infinite Depth.

Below, I’m using the Infinite Depth feature on the Standard brush and with the ‘Y axis’ enabled from the switch. Notice how I rotate the camera around while using the brush and the infinite depth is applied in the selected axis.

Here is one more example but this time enabling the ‘X axis’:

PolyPaint Adjust by colour

This is one of my favorite features of this ZBrush 2020 update. It brings the polypainting process to a whole new level as it lets you control the colours on your model in a very intuitive way.

If you are familiar with Photoshop, you can think about this Polypaint Adjust feature in ZBrush as the equivalent to the select by colour, hue/saturation, and curves, all in one.

I had a lot of fun testing this feature and I found it to be indispensable in the design and prototyping stage as well as the final stages of a concept to refine colours and produce variants.

I used this little character to focus on this specific feature and test the masking and colour tools:

I did a quick time-lapse of how quick and easy it is to use this feature to find variations in colours or simply to refine hues and contrast between the polypaint you’ve done.

The feature can be found within the Polypaint subpalette > Adjust by Color button as well as the Adjust by Color from the Texture palette (that’s right! with this feature you can also tweak your texture files directly from ZBrush).

After clicking the Adjust By Color button, you’ll be presented with a pop-up window which looks very similar to the layout of the Surface noise. You can use the 3D view to navigate like you navigate in ZBrush and/or use the text/buttons at the top left to quickly center and frame the subtool.

The controls on the right are essentially your masking and viewing options, each one of the swatches allows you to control a specific hue/value on your polypaint, so you can refine the masking quite a bit.

The sliders and colour picker at the bottom are your tools to alter and tweak the polypaint. The colour picker is mainly for the ‘Tint’ sliders.

You also have a button called ‘Mask by polypaint’ in the Masking subpalette. This will work in a similar way but to mask sections of your model based on the polypaint.

Here is a practical example of using this Adjust By Colour feature in combination with the History Recall Brush to generate variation in colour and target only specific areas of a model.

In my subtools I have a few exact duplicates of the same robot mesh. I used the adjust by color feature to change the hues and values of the different copies of the robot and then the History Recall brush to project the changes in certain parts.

Below are a few variants that I did using this method. In terms of prototyping and producing variations from a single mesh with polypaint, this tool is indispensable from now on!

3D Print analysis And Cam view

ZBrush 2020 has a bunch of features focusing on 3D printing that allows you to analyze and fix your mesh before printing it.

My experience with 3D printing at this stage is rather limited so I didn’t get to test these features with the practical purpose they were intended for. However, features like the wall thickness and the real-time draft analysis are certainly amazing tools for anyone working on ZBrush for 3D printing.

Since I don’t have a 3D printer to test these features in a real-world scenario, I tested them in a different way… The Draft analysis, for instance, will show you a preview with colours if enable from the Transform Palette. Once you have established the daft angle (Transform > SetDir), you can generate polypaint from it (Polypaint > From Draft) or create a mask from the draft angle (Masking > MaskByDraft).

So I took advantage of these features to produce a quick mask for the Whale and then use the mask to add polypaint. The process shown in the image below can be achieved with simple manual masking, however, the Draft analysis can set a very accurate angle (in my case from the top) and speed this masking process quite a bit (especially around the thin areas like the fins of the whale):

Check out the ZBrush documentation at pixologic’s website for more in-depth info about the 3D analysis features.

Cam view and Silhouette!

The cam view and the silhouette thumbnail are the types of features that you didn’t even know you need until you use them. These two little gems help you to keep track of the direction and angle of your model and the overall silhouette of the mesh.

The Cam View

It sits at the top right of the canvas and it simply shows you where the front/back sides and top/bottom of your model are. This Cam icon updates as you rotate your model and you can actually change the type of icon or create your own.

The Silhouette thumbnail

This is one of my favorites additions. As a concept and character artist, this thumbnail gives me an interactive view of the silhouette of the character so I can keep an eye on proportions and how well the character reads.

You can access the options for the Camb View and Silhouette thumbnail from the preference palette. Here is an example of how they look.

You’ll notice that in the example above, I have a little version of the whale at the top right corner. This is what the ‘Make CamView’ button does. It grabs your current model and spins it around to create a few shots from different angles that match the camera views.

Also having those thumbnails on the screen is pretty cool but it can get on the way of sculpting. Fortunately, there is a very simple trick to remove the background for either the silhouette or the 3D custom cam view:

To make the background of the thumbnail transparent, all you need to do is make the background black from the ‘Background’ swatch in the Thumbnail subpalette. Zbrush can interpret black colour as transparent so what you get is an inverted silhouette with no background.

To make the background of the CamView transparent, the principle is the same. You just need to make the background colour of the canvas black (Document Palette > Background swatch), and when you click the ‘Make CamView’ the colour of the background will be embedded in the texture that is created with the different angles and interpreted by ZBrush as Transparent.

One more thing I thought was pretty neat, is that the CamView actually takes a screenshot of the canvas in 5 angles of elevation and 8 shots per elevation every 45 degrees around the model. This means that the end result is a pretty cool ‘character sheet’ in the texture palette that you can export and use in a variety of different ways.

Even more, since the CamView uses a texture file as the source to display the interactive view of the model,  you could just create any texture you like and save it in the folder that the CamView uses to reference the images.

I found myself using the Silhouette Thumbnail more than what I thought I would. I actually added it to my custom UI to easily turn it on and off as well as changing the size slider (Preferences > Thumbnail > Size).

As I mentioned before, as a character artist, it’s extremely valuable to have a quick overview of how the silhouette is looking while designing. I’m sure anyone designing directly in ZBrush is going to love this feature.

Here is a quick trick that you might find useful:

Remeber what I said earlier that a custom CamView will rotate your model and save a series of images as a texture? – Well, you can select your model turn off any texture/polypaint and select a flat material with a black colour to replicate the silhouette shape, then assign a white colour to the background and create a new CamView to produce a cool character sheet with the silhouettes:

Here is another quick tip… you can create a series of custom CamViews with anatomical references so that you can have an interactive reference of whatever you want. Also, remember that ZBrush grabs whatever is in the canvas so you can have a tool with polypaint and different materials. Here is how I’ve been using this feature as an interactive reference:

Some other really cool stuff...

New Deco Brushes in 3D

The Deco brushes were a popular feature in the 2.5D space and now are part of the solid 3D brushes system in ZBrush 2020. These are brushes that can fit a texture/alpha within the flow of a path given by a curve.

In the example below I’m using the ‘DecoCurveDots’ to draw a spiral by pulling the end of the curve over itself. This is essentially stretching the alpha used by this brush (Alpha 33) along the entire length of the stroke.

You can also tweak these brushes to tile an alpha and a texture instead of stretching it along the curve. To do that you can use any alpha and any texture and change the settings of the stroke palette.

Here is an example the DecoCurveDragRect, using Alpha 62 and texture 40… with no Roll, a Roll distance of 1 and a CurveStep of 1

No Back & Forth

This is a feature added to the Stroke Palette that when enabled, it will restrict the strokes to only the initial direction of the motion. In other words, if you click from left to right to start the stroke and go back right to left without letting go of the click, ZBrush will ignore that motion. This creates a pretty interesting effect and speeds up certain processes.

Here is how the normal stroke action works with the ‘No Back&Forth’ switch OFF:

Now, here is another example of similar motion (one single stroke without letting go of the ‘click’), but with the ‘No Back&Forth’ switch enabled. This creates a much better effect since the Alpha that I’m using has a fade towards the bottom and with this feature it produces some sort of ‘stacking’ effect:

Polypaint or Texture FADE

This is an awesome update. It is a simple slider in the Render Palette that fades the polypaint or texture that you have on your model so that you can better judge the sculptural details over the colour.

This is a feature that I personally will be using often when dealing with polypaint and texturing within ZBrush. It might not sound like a big deal, but it is HUGE in terms of optimizing an already robust workflow (polypaint and texturing).

Paint with Alpha

Paint with Alpha is another fantastic addition! – This feature allows you to apply polypaint or texture but restricting the effect to the alpha that you have on your brush. This is brilliant for the texturing and detailing process, in the example below I have a matrix with 4 scenarios and a simple brush with a tileable alpha pattern and a tileable texture.

The fourth sphere on the far right shows the process of the ‘Paint with alpha’ feature and I think the advantage over the other options is pretty clear. This option will allow you to create very complex textures using polypaint with depth.


The ZeeZoo is pretty cool as well. This more than a feature is an expansion on the mannequins library with around 96 new animals that you can load, pose, turn into a mesh, and start the sculpting process with a very solid based.

You can find these mannequins in the ZeeZoo folder within the project folder in the lightbox. To load any of these projects simply double click on the animal base you want to use and it will be loaded.

NOTE: All of these animals are ZTL files so you can just double click a few to load them in the same project.

More Import/Export options

ZBrush 2020 comes with a more intuitive approach, as well as more options, to the whole IMPORT and EXPORT process.

From the Tool palette, the Import and export buttons will bring the explorer window but now you have the option to change the ‘Save as type’ as well as choosing a variety of formats to import.